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Wednesday, May 16th – Day 12, Pugnac, Bordeaux, Saint Emilion

It was a stupidly early start for us (well, not for E and W) because we were off on an excursion into the vineyards of Bordeaux. Our restaurant owning friends at Rascills had recommended that we take a long look at Winerist for getting the most out of trips to wine growing areas, and finding ourselves in Bordeaux, I’d taken them at their word and had a look to see what trips were available. We settled on their full day trip to Pomerol and Saint Emilion, through Ophorus, at a cost of €130 per person. The trip would involve no more than 8 guests, in an air-conditioned minibus, with our own dedicated tour guide, and we would get to visit three vineyards, with tastings at each, and would also visit the medieval town of Saint Emilion, where we would have time for lunch. The pre-sales service was most impressive, with answers to my questions about the difficulty of getting into Bordeaux during the early morning rush provided rapidly and accurately (as it turned out).

The bad news was we needed to be at the Bordeaux Tourist Information office at 12 Cours du 30 Juillet by 09:30. We set the alarm for 06:00 and headed out onto the road by 07:30. This meant we were at the rendezvous in good time. It meant we had time to buy a new batch of Bordeux City Passes, and then use them to book a dinner cruise on the Garonne at a 25% discount. With time to spare, we nipped next door into Baillardran for a coffee and a canele, and then congregated outside to wait for our driver to come and collect us.

By 09:30 we were in the bus, and Hugo, our guide, was filling us in on the Bordeaux appelation and how it all works, including the information that Saint Emilion contains around 850 chateaux, a chateau basically being any building on a piece of land that has vines on it, no matter how tiny said building is; it could even be a garden shed and still be a chateau. Hugo was incredibly knowledgeable, spoke excellent English, and was more than happy to engage with us all. We were quickly out of town and heading towards Saint Emilion. Our first stop was one of the Pomerol vineyards, Chateau du Tailhas, where the charming Aurelie showed us round the vines, explaining the way in which grapes grow and develop, and how they are trained and pruned and harvested, and speaking entertainingly and amusingly about the wines as if they are particularly awkward children who need to be pushed to leave home.

She was happy to answer any questions any of us had, discussing the ways in which they try to protect the crop, and explaining that the massively empty field next to where we were standing was about to be replanted with new grapes, the old vines that were there previously having been grubbed out after frost damage to the vines in 2017 meant they really would not have had much to harvest. Their intention to replace the vines “some time in the future” became “might as well do it now”.

We were then guided into the chai (where we learned about the tanks that are used for the initial vinification, which at du Tailhas are a choice of stainless steel or concrete, both of which have their pros and cons when it comes to maintaining a steady temperature.

We would hear a lot about these tanks during the day, with opinion varying on which is best. The one thing all three of the vintners we visited agreed upon was that French oak barrels were the way to go. On how long they should be used for, it again varied, between one and two years, but again there was consensus on who they should come from, a ll three places using the same three coopers.

Finally we returned to the house where several wines were set out ready to be tasted. We’d been told that if your were after the best possible Bordeaux wines, you could do worse than to rely on the rule of 5/10, with 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015 being particularly good.

We tasted several wines and Lynne and I agreed that we particularly liked the 2008 because we are not patient people, and do not want to wait for t he 2015 to be ready to drink. Laying down wines for a decade or more is fine when you’re in your 20s or 30s, but not when you’re pushing 60 in my opinion. I want wines that will be good to drink now. We also liked the 2008 because it had developed a splendidly jammy flavour, the fruit dense and lovely, and so we asked about returning to the chateau in two days time, with the car. We really didn’t want to have to drag a couple of cases back with us via public transport and a boat cruise. That would be fine, Aurelie said, though I’m not sure she expected to see us again.

From there we were back in the minibus, with Hugo explaining how the classifications for Saint Emilion wines work, with only four chat eau making it to the top level (but also how there are apparently certain things they need to have that have absolutely no bearing on the wine and its quality, such as private parking for the security of VIP guests!), and 14 in the second level. It’s clearly a process that is rife with controversy, which is understandable when you see the prices the top four get away with charging for their wines (€2000 a bottle in some instances, more as the wines mature). We were utterly stunned by this price list – and yes that does say €15,950 for a single bottle of 1945 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild.

Before there was more wine, however, we were treated to a brief but informative tour of Saint Emilion, which is a glorious place, another UNESCO W orld Heritage site, and as a result an obvious tourist trap. We started in the Collegiate church, formerly a monastery church, now the parish church for Saint Emilion. It has something of an identity crisis going on, one end of it being solidly Gothic in style, the other Romanesque, as if someone had bolted two different churches together.

The cloisters are beautiful and contained some fascinating art works.

The main piece seemed to be a depiction of the apocalypse in a serious of panels, some monochrome, some colou r, which wasn’t exactly cheerful, but was rather wonderful. I particularly liked the almost medieval style of the work, though I had no idea who the artist was or why it was currently sitting in the cloisters. I have since found this so I have a better idea. I would say that if you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a look, though you’ll need to get a move on as it’s only there until July 2018.

We then walked to the upper part of the town, and the bell tower of the monolithic church where the original Saint Emilion had his hermitage. The were super views of the whole town from up there, though the weight of the tower is apparently now causing problems for the church which is basically a cave carved out of the rock be low it, which means that visitor numbers have to be limited.

We did also briefly look at the Hostellerie de Plaisance, which looks like our sort of place, though the prices made our eyes water a bit! It has a 2 Michelin starred restaurant, but we decided not to go there for lunch… Instead, we asked Hugo where he would recommend for good, regional cooking, and he made two suggestions, the one we took being the very pleasant Lard et Bouchon, described by the Tourist Information website as a “restaurant and wine bar is located in Chateau Larmande‘s former cellars” where it “enjoys the perfect air conditions of a 14th century cellar”. It was a hot day outside so the cool cellar was very welcoming, as were the fr ont of house staff.

We ordered aperitifs (of course we did) and had a study of the menu du jour, deciding that once more we would not have starters because we’d just end up falling asleep in the afternoon. Armed with our new found knowledge, we also tackled the wine list from a much more informed position, ordering a half bottle of 1999 Chateau Cadet-Bon, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

It went well with the veal sweetbreads, which were well cooked and served with mashed and croquette potatoes, and a small handful of seasonal vegetables.

Lynne had a confit duck leg, with the same accompaniments.

It wasn’t a stunning lunch, but it was solidly well cooked, well presented and we were happy at the end of it. We didn’t have dessert, we didn’t even have cheese, we just walked back through the winding steep streets to rejoin the party. What the others did, we have no idea – they were pretty uncommunicative, the Japanese couple because only the wife s poke any English, the American couple I have no idea why, though they did open up a bit later in the day after a few more wine tastings.

We went next to Chateau Guadet, which is actually in the town itself (with its vineyards a stone’s throw from the front door). Here we were again shown the chai, with those same oak barrels, but here only the concrete tanks, not stainless steel. The owner’s son, Vincent-Petrus Lignac, showed us round, and then took us to see the underground tunnels they use to store the wine. Apparently they put aside 1000 bottles of every vintage for the family’s own use and as a sort of wine archive, and have done since 1901. It’s naturally cool down there, but to keep it that way visits can only last for four minutes. It’s also down a very steep stairway which you need to negotiate sideways or backwards, rather like being on a ship. As a result, the Japanese couple opted to stay in the garden and wait for us, as he was not especially young or mobile.

No photos were allowed so I can’t show you the cellars, but the garden is very peaceful and lovely, and the Japanese couple were most amused when we popped up at the other end to where we’d vanished underground before.

Guy also talked about the fact that they, like m any other wine makers in the appellation, have moved first to organic production, and then to bio-dynamic planting and growing. There is a suggestion that in the next decade or so that will be the case with all the growers in the region. I find it hard to be convinced by the who bio-dynamic thing, but the people we spoke to all seemed utterly certain that there were benefits to it, and I suppose it’s just a way of taking working with the seasons a step further. Anyway, after that we walked to one of the many, many wine shops in the town, with Guy then taking us through a tasting of several of his and other people’s wines.

We settled on a case of 2015 Chateau Martet Réserve de la Famille AOC Sainte-Foy Bordeaux, unusually made from 100% Merlot grapes. In addition we picked up a case of dessert wines, and were able to arrange to have it all shipped back via UPS. That was a far better option than having to carry it back to the bus up the steep, slippery paths from the town square. It was hard enough hauling ourselves up there.

Back in the bus, we had one more chateau to visit, and one more tasting to look forward to. This time we went to Chateau Grangey, which has as long a history as the other chateaux, but not in its current form. Franck and Elodie Mio are the young couple now running the place, his parents and grandparents having had other jobs rather than being full time winemakers. The result was that the grapes were sent to the cooperative cellar of the Union des Producers o f Saint-Emilion. That all changed in 2009, when Franck took over, and starting in 2012, carried out a complete restructuring of the winery and all the buildings. He and Elodie made their first wine on site in October 2013, and we tasted that, plus some of the other wines that have been produced since. First, however, we needed to see the winery itself, and again there was agreement on the French oak barrels, and not on the tanks (stainless steel, computer-monitored and controlled here).

I found the flatness of the vineyards especially fascinating after our Mosel trip last year. It always seems odd to me that such different terrain can be used to grow what is essentially the same t hing.

The tasting was good, and again we made a note to come back on the Friday, having checked that they would be open to sell us some wine then. Visit over, Hugo rounded us up and took us back to Bordeaux, dropping us off tired but happy at the Tourist Information office with one last nugget of information to keep us entertained. Apparently there is a good market for any wine that doesn’t make the grade, with much of it being added to the 2% that goes to the government for the use of the French armed forces. The extra is sold for cosmetic use, most of it to Caudalie!

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006CHATEAU DE TAILHAS 008LARD & BOUCHON 009LARD & BOUCHON 007CHATEAU GUADET 009SAINT EMILION 030SAINT EMILION 080SAINT EMILION 069SAINT EMILION 008CHATEAU GUADET 011SAINT EMILION 015 Travel/Food 2018 – French Road Trip, Day 12, Pugnac, Bordeaux, Saint Emilion Wednesday, May 16th – Day 12, Pugnac, Bordeaux, Saint Emilion It was a stupidly early start for us (well, not for E and W) because we were off on an excursion into the vineyards of Bordeaux.

Tuesday, May 15th – Day 11, Pugnac, Blaye

And so, up and about to find the sun shining, so I took a short-ish run into and through Pugnac (it’s not very big), establishing that it has a very attractive main street, is surrounded by vines, and there’s a small brasserie just beyond the mairie. Also, the place appears to be served by hundreds of school buses, many of them empty!

I was back before the rest of the house was stirring, so had the opportunity to shower and the sit in the sunshine while I waited for signs of life from around me.

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Breakfast out of the way, we decided that we would head off to Blaye, taking R with us. W and E had work to get through, and once they’d done that, they wanted to simply vegetate by the pool, especia lly if the weather forecast turned out to be true. We’d figure out a dinner plan later in the day. And so, having unpacked the car and reconstructed the interior, we first drove into Bordeaux to figure out where the park and ride car park at our end of the A tramline, because we knew we’d be wanting to use it the following day.

After circling round Carbon Blanc and finding a different park and ride to the one we wanted, but that would do perfectly well, we headed off up the road to the town of Blaye. It’s a town with quite some history, including a claim, possibly apocryphal, that the hero Roland was buried in its basilica. As an enthusiast for Carolingian history, I’d like to think it’s true.

We parked up at the Citadelle and started nosing around. It’s vast, mightily impressive, and the river stretches as far as the eye can see in both directions. There seem to have been fortifications on the site for some considerable time, the Vauban defences being simply the latest iteration.

As with so many places we visited, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it thoroughly deserves to be. You’d have expected it to be heaving with tourists, but it was actually pretty quiet, apart from a coach tour, and they were having lunch when we arrived, and were then scooped up and shepherded back to their bus, thus meaning we had very little contact wi th them.

It’s one of three forts that were built to defend Bordeaux, the other two being Fort Paté – yes, really – and Fort Médoc. It has an interesting history, and is rather lovely, with its views along the river, the swifts nesting just below the ramparts that swoop and shriek around the river bank, snatching up insects, the wildflowers on the embankments. It even has the ruins of the triangular medieval castle still standing in the grounds.

Af ter we’d roamed along to the riverside, and admired the vast vistas from the walls, we decided all that history and scenery was making us hungry and thirsty, as it is wont to do.

The small square near the ramparts, the Place d’Armes, contains two restaurants, and we made for the Hotel-Restaurant la Citadelle on the grounds that it had the views. Oh boy, did it have the views. The service was a bit over-stretched though that was because the coach party had just sat down to their pre-ordered lunch, and that pretty much absorbed all of the attention available for a while.

It gave us time to think though, and to enjoy the tapenade that they had brought us along with our aperitifs. As we knew we’d be out in the evening, we again went for a main course each, with R on the stone bass again.

There was an asparagus dish for Lynne, though it’s fair to say she found it rather woody. The crab that accompanied it was goo t hough, especially the croquette.

I ordered the lamprey, on the grounds that it’s apparently a local speciality, and I’d never had it before. I expected it to be somewhat eel-like in texture and taste, but it was much milder, and quite a bit looser-fleshed. The mashed potato with it was a good vessel for soaking up the sauce Bordelaise, which was very good. I do not, however, think I’ll be succumbing to a surfeit of lampreys any time soon! It was perfectly OK, but nothing more.

What was very good was the bottle of wine we drank, a Chateau Montfollet cuvee Pegase, an AOC Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux, and that rare thing, a Bordeaux wine made entirely out of Malbec grapes. It’s clearly a labour of love for the wine maker, and my god it’s a strong wine, at 14.5%. I’d be more than happy to lay hands on some of this, but the chateau was hard to locate online, so we didn’t manage to find anything about them until it was too late.

To mop up the wine afterwards, we shared a single portion of cheese between the three of us.

By then it was time to move on if we wanted to see anything else of the town, and we almost certainly did. We started with the cloisters round the back of the church, where there was a slightly eccentric art exhibition by Catherine Libmann in full swing.

From there we headed across to the tiny Tourist Information office, which is in the old barracks.

The citadel museum was open, though the lady in charge had to unlock everything for us. We seemed to be the only visitors, so we were allowed to wander round at will in return for our €4 entry fee. For a very small museum, it pretty much covered the full history of the citadel, and the surrounding area, starting with the Romans and working on from there.

Of particular interest to me was the officers’ house, which had been turned into a bakery and during WWII was run by the Germans.

Anyway, after that we moved the car down to the modern town, where I was pleased to find a nice cool tree to park under. A wander around the side streets was interesting, especially when we realised there is art everywhere, some of it quite strange.

A lot of the streets are similar to those in Bordeaux.

There are also some fabulous views of the citadel.

It was getting late, so we found a wine shop, and although the proprietor didn’t seem very interested in selling to us, we rounded up a couple more cases of wine, and then loaded up the car and headed for the house.

Once back at the ranch we found the others had spent the day by the pool. I foolishly got into my swimming kit and got into the pool, to the amusement of all concerned as the cold water hit me. Actually it was very refreshing, so I swam a dozen lengths, then floated for a while, before heading indoors to get showered.

After that I sorted out our plans for the morning, and then we had a conference about what we should do with the evening. We decided we’d head towards Pugnac in search of dinner, as W and E had had a very nice and very cheap lunch in a small bistro there earlier. If nothing else was open, they were quite happy to go back there for dinner. The walk in was very pleasant.

And I was right about the attractive build ings.

When we got there, la Plancha Gourmande was busy, but they were happy to seat us, and supply kirs so we could relax and think about what we wanted to eat.

Some super little cheesy tartlets appeared on the table as we considered our options. They were a mix of various fillings, including salmon, and broccoli and they were very moreish. It was very hard to stop eating them once you started.

Lynne ordered foie gras, and I ordered the melon soup with bacon, which we shared. They were good, solid examples of the sort of mid-range cooking we just don’t get in the UK, and thoroughly enjoyable (and yes, everything is better with bacon).

OK, the melon wasn’t spectacularly pretty, but it was tasty.

For mains, there was the now almost inevitable stone bass, this time with asparagus, and polenta.

I had the piece of beef, cooked rare, with seared asparagus, and more of the polenta, which seemed to have been pan-fried. There was a small amount of nicely dressed salad leaves, and that was it. Simplicity itself.

Lynne went for the burger, something neither of us would ever dream of doing in the UK, for fear of what sort of appalling hockey puck of poor quality meat that might end up on your plate. This was good. The accompaniments were the same for all the mains, probably on the grounds that the place was being staffed by two people, with the chef Vincent in the kitchen, and a solitary waitress out the front. They were doing a great job, especially as they’d been open just over one week.

Keeping it simple meant there were not many choices, and we probably didn’t need a dessert, but the idea of a popcorn creme brulee was too hard to resist.

And yes, it really did taste of popcorn! Afterwards, I asked him how he’d done it. The answer was a very simple one; he’d used Monin popcorn syrup. Not impressed? You should be. After all, we didn’t think of it, and he did. And the bill after a meal for five people, with wine and aperitifs? Just shy of €200. That’s what I call a bargain.

We walked back to the house, stuffed with food and happy.

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AEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 005BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 074BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 086BLAYE 015BLAYE 031BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 040BLAYE ARCH

AEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 029BLAYE 024BLAYE 029BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 060BLAYE 017BLAYE 036BLAYE 026BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 004BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 056BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 041HOTEL RESTAURANT LA CITADELLE, BLAYE, APERITIFS 003PUGNAC 006BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 060BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 038BLAYE 018HOTEL RESTAURANT LA CITADELLE, BLAYE 002BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 048PUGNAC 013BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 056BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 007BLAYE 021BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 057BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 085BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 019HOTEL RESTAURANT LA CITADELLE, BLAYE, CHEESE 009BLAYE 007BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 009PUGNAC 011HOTEL RESTAURANT LA CITADELLE, BLAYE, ASPARAGUS AND CRAB 005BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 018BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 017BLAYE 025BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 013BLAYE 040BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 016BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 052BLAYE 010LA PLANCHA, PUGNAC, POPCORN CREME BRULEE 009BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 053BLAYE 008BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 088BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 045BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 030LA PLANCHA, PUGNAC, ASPARAGUS AND STONE BASS 005HOTEL RESTAURANT LA CITADELLE, BLAYE, WINE 004BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 030LA PLANCHA, PUGNAC, TARTLETS 002BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 014BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 095BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 059LA PLANCHA, PUGNAC, KIR 001BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 084BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 037BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 033BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 024LA PLANCHA, PUGNAC, BURGER DU CHEF 006BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 042BLAYE 022BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 051HOTEL RESTAURANT LA CITADELLE, BLAYE, LAMPREY A LA BORDELAISE 007BLAYE 005BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 032BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 026HOTEL RESTAURANT LA CITADELLE, BLAYE STONE BASS 006BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 003BLAYE 023BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 076LA PLANCHA, PUGNAC, 004BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 049BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 036HOTEL RESTAURANT LA CITADELLE, BLAYE, 025BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 031BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 010BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 020BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 044BLAYE 014BLAYE 040BLAYE 019BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 066BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 058BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 001BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 006BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 041BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 043BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 075BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 070BLAYE 034BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 082BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 068BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 047BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 008PUGNAC 002BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 013BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 035BLAYE 018BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 031BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 092BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 003PUGNAC 012BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 083BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 078BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 027BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 058BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 018BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 051BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 036BLAYE 012BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 067BLAYE 028PUGNAC 004BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 061BLAYE 037BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 020BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 002BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 055BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 010HOTEL RESTAURANT LA CITADELLE, BLAYE 001BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 055BLAYE 039BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 014BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 090HOTEL RESTAURANT LA CITADELLE, BLAYE, COFFEE 010BLAYE 002BLAYE 038BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 011BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 024BLAYE 033BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 079LA PLANCHA, PUGNAC, FOIE GRAS 003BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 001BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 054BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 054BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 065BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 064BLAYE 006BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 091BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 039HOTEL RESTAURANT LA CITADELLE, BLAYE 001BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 011BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 071BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 012BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 059BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 081BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 052BLAYE 035BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 062BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 080BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 028BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 034BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 077PUGNAC 008BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 050BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 046BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 094BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 043BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 033BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 017BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 049BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 038BLAYE 009BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 037BLAYE 001PUGNAC 009BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 001BLAYE 004BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 009BLAYE 013BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 021BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 047BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 035BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 023BLAYE 030BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 025BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 046HOTEL RESTAURANT LA CITADELLE, BLAYE, MENU 008BLAYE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM 039BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 093BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 089BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 022BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 005BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 087BLAYE, THE CITADELLE 051 Travel/Food 2018 – French Road Trip, Day 11, Pugnac, Blaye Tuesday, May 15th – Day 11, Pugnac, Blaye And so, up and about to find the sun shining, so I took a short-ish run into and through Pugnac (it’s not very big), establishing that it has a very attractive main street, is surrounded by vines, and there’s a small brasserie just beyond the mairie.

Monday, May 14th – Day 10, Pau, Gan, Aydie, Pugnac

A serious repack of the car was needed, so I spent some time in the underground car park moving stuff about and reconfiguring the seats. This was essential if we wanted to get any wine into the boot, as well as if we wanted to fit R into the car (his luggage was going with E and W as we couldn’t get both into either car). Lynne and I then headed into Monoprix to buy supplies for the week as we would still be self catering.

Finally, round about 11am we were ready for the off. The plan, if plan there was, was to go to les Caves de Gan over in Gan, a small town around 8km from Pau, to buy some wine and, if we got there early enough, to go on their cellar tour. We didn’t get there early enough, so we tasted some wines, made a note of the ones we were interested in, and bought a bottle of each to drink during the week and check our opinions were valid. We also checked that they would be open the following Monday so we could swing by on our way home and stock up.

From there we walked into the town centre and found a couple of places open that could offer lunch. We opted for the one that looked nicer from the outside, the Bistrot de l’Ossau. It was quite busy and seemed to be popular with locals. We were soon sure we’d made the right choice, and glad we’d not ordered more than one course. I finally went for the meal I most associate with these parts, a confit de Canard, with fried potatoes. I’ve been known to eat this almost daily, but on this trip somehow it hadn’t happened.

It was as I’d hope, sticky duck fat, crispy skin and tender fibres of meat. Good stuff! Lynne ordered one of the “salads”, the Landaise, which seemed to contain as much meat and cheese as could be pack ed in by anyone determined to overdo the protein.

None of the other “plates” were any smaller, and so it was slightly surprising when we all ordered dessert or cheese afterwards. I seemed to be on some sort of roll with the local cheese and so had a portion for the third day in a row.

At least I didn’t foolhardily take on one of the biggest creme brulees I’ve ever seen. That act of insanity fell to Lynne.

And R went for an apple tart… I think it was rather larger than he’d expected.

Lunch over with, we planned to drive up to Bordeaux by way of the Madiran wine region, in particular calling in at one of the chateaux provided it was open, with Chateau Aydie being the one I had in mind. Aydie is tiny, with less than 140 inhabitants, and it’s down some interestingly convoluted lanes, in some beautiful countryside, and it took us a while to actually get there. Their visitor centre is on the other side of the road to the chateau and when we arrived there was no one around apart fro m a woman obliviously vacuuming, and a tick-infested but very friendly cat!

Eventually we managed to alert the lady with the vacuum without startling her, and she went to find someone to help us. She also d e-ticked the cat while she was there. It didn’t seem too bothered either way.

Wines were opened, and tried, and tested, and discussed and eventually we settled on three cases. The first six reds, the Château Aydie is, as Madiran always is, made from the Tannat grape, harvested by hand and aged in oak for 12-15 months, before being bottled after 20 months. The technical sheet says it “can very easily be kept for 7 to 10 years” and that it will go well with “game (pigeon stew, boar stew), duck breast, red meats (grilled rib goat cheeses of beef) or Pyreneen goat cheeses.” We&r squo;ll see about the 10 years…

Second up were six bottles of Odé Aydie, again a Madiran and thus made from hand harvested Tannat grapes. These also get 12 to 15 months in oak, and then ar e bottled at 20 months. It is best “served not only with traditional French dishes, but also variations in contemporary cuisine: leg of lamb, beef Burgundy.”

The white was a dessert wine, six bottles of Château Aydie Moelleux, a Pacherenc du Vic Bilh, made from Petit Manseng grapes, which are late-harvested (last sorting) around 1st November. A small amount of Gros Manseng is added to give a touch of complexity, and is vinified and aged in oak and in thorntree barrels for 10 months, after which it is bottled. They recommend it be drunk cold at 8° to 10°C, as an aperitif, with foie gras, cheese, and the traditional spit-baked cake of the Pyrenees, the gâteau à la broche.

And just as we’d decided on 18 bottles to take away, the man we were dealing with pulled out a liquer they produc e which they call Maydie. This is made exclusively with hand-harvested overripe Tannat grapes, which are de-stemmed and placed in a wooden tank to macerate for a few days to extract the maximum of aromas and colour. It is then fermented for three to four days before the process is stopped by the addition of high strength wine-based alcohol. Maceration continues for up to six more days before the liquid is poured into an oak tun and aged for 24 months before bottling. It’s best drunk cold as an aperitif or with chocolate sauced desserts, or Roquefort cheese. And so three bottles of that got added to the pile.

Having paid up we loaded the boxes into the car and drove carefully towards Bordeaux. We hit the ring road just towards the end of the rush hour, and so were soon in Pugnac, and driving round and round in circles trying to find our Airbnb! The local commune had apparently recently renumbered all of the houses, so number 1, which we were looking for, is now 415! Luckily our landlady was around, and she came out and waved at us as we circled round for the third time, trying to reach escape velocity!

The place had been chosen by me to have a swimming pool, three bathrooms to go with the three bedrooms, and to be peaceful because that was what E and W needed, and to be close to Bordeaux and other places of interest for those of us who wanted to be out and about and doing things. It seemed to be perfect, so we unpacked, stashed the food and drink supplies appropriately, and waited for E and W to arrive.

From the outside it did not look too promising, at least on the photo on Airbnb, but inside it was glorious, one of the best equipped, nicest places I have ever rented. You just wouldn’t know it from the external photo used on the listing.

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Inside the rooms were lovely, comfortable, with great beds and a super bath/wet room as an en suite to the room we snagged. The lounge/kitchen room was fantastic, with plenty of room for all of us.

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The pool was a decent size too.

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We stayed in that night, dining on cold meats, cheeses, olives, bread and other goodies, and drinking some of the wine from the Caves du Gan. Exploring could wait until Tuesday.

Travel 2018 – French Road Trip, Day 10, Pau, Gan, Aydie, Pugnac Monday, May 14th – Day 10, Pau, Gan, Aydie, Pugnac A serious repack of the car was needed, so I spent some time in the underground car park moving stuff about and reconfiguring the seats.

Sunday, May 13th – Day 9, Pau

The day started off reasonably well and it looked as if we might get some decent weather. How wrong can you be? However, the initial races of the day were run in relatively dry conditions, and we got to sit in the grandstand and be entertained!

There was much to be said for being perched where we were, especially as it’s one of the places where the optimistic driver may well try an overtaking move.

Although it’s not always easy to see the follow through that c learly!

It didn’t always work, I can tell you that.

Some of the Twin Cup runners were looking somewhat the worse for wear too.

The first F3 race of the day went fairly well too, though some people seem to prefer open-plan racing cars, and a lot of noses would need to be replaced later. Th e start was clean enough though.

It was after that the trouble started really.

And here’s one of those air-cooled feet jobs…

And another:

The sun came out towards the end of the race, so we headed into the paddock to see if we could find Peter over at Prema, wandering through the support race paddock over on the railway station of the Gave du Pau.

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The old station goods yard buildings have been converted into a canvas too!

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He wasn’t around so we stopped at one of the paddock stands and bought saucisse and frites for lunch, and then decided to head towards the autograph session for the F ormula 3 drivers. It’s always fun watching them being rounded up; it’s rather like herding cats but possibly more difficult. The session itself was entertaining in its own quiet way, and I got some good photos so I was happy.

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We managed to miss Peter at Prema, but as we’ve seen more than enough F3 teams over the years, we weren’t too worried and so we headed back to our grandstand for the start of the Grand Prix. As in previous years, there was a helicopter display beforehand, with some rather startling flying going on.

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It’s certainly not the view you expect to get of a helicopter! The come from the 4th Air-Combat Brigade, with the 5th Combat Helicopter Regiment being based in Pau. It’s quite impressive when you can look up and pretty much see the pilot’s eyes.

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It looked as if we might get a mildly damp race at this stage. However, the weather gods thought differently. The first laps were no problem, especially as pretty much everyone had wet weather tyres on.

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We were enjoying watching the different lines people were taking – especially the one that made at least one wheel lose contact with the ground:

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However, the clouds started to come back over, thicker and darker than they had been and the track conditions began to deteriorate.

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You knew it was bad when cars started going off on the straights.

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The Safety Car had to be scrambled, needless to say.

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It got worse, with the rain absolutely hammering it down. Eventually the race was red-flagged and everyone that had survived lined up in the pits while the officials waited to see if the weather would improve. Instead it got worse and finally the decision was taking to abandon any idea of restarting it. We had predicted this would happen but we stuck it out in the grandstand until it was officially announced, after which we trudged back to the apartment and squelched around drying stuff off.

There had been a suggestion that we’d get ready for dinner and then go out and watch the final race of the day, the Formula Ren ault NEZ. However, having been soaked to the knickers, we’d lost the will.

As a result, we were ready for dinner far too early so Lynne, R and I staggered across the road to the wine bar, Les Contrebandiers, to get in an early aperitif and a portion or two of snack food, in the shape of some cod balls, which were lovely, and a very fine “plancha” of charcuterie. It was very impressive, and the staff were attentive and helpful.

After that we were once again dining out on the edge of the town centre, this time at l’Ardoise. It’s down a somewhat nondescript street, and it wasn’t easy to find, but it was very definitely worth it. The amuse bouches were a small portion of spelt with langoustines, lovely with seafood sweetness and a chewiness from the grains…

There was also a small portion of wild mushroom ragout, which I would have happily eaten in much larger quantities!

There was a wonderful seafood salad with potatoes and green asparagus, which went some way towards fooling us into believing that it possibly was actually summer outside!

The other starter that everyone went for was a tartare of salmon trout, with a ginger and aniseed dressing. Again, a lovely fresh thing with the tang of the sea, and perfectly soft, fresh fish, chives and dill shot through it.

The mains were pretty fabulous too. The fish of the day was a tuna steak, cooked perfectly with none of that awful, grey teeth-squeaking approach that so often gets taken in the UK, and makes me think I’m biting into a piece of kitchen foil. This was tuna as it should be, rose-coloured most of the way through, soft, tender, falling into flakes with the introduction of a fork. The seasonal vegetables included mushrooms, white asparagus, and new potatoes, along with green peppers. Lovely!

To prove that the kitchen is more than capable with fish, there was a fillet of locally caught trout, with a vegetable risotto, and an asparagus cream sauce, the skin still on the fish and cooked crisp and golden. Again, a lovely plate.

Lynne went for the locally produced lamb, again with a risotto, this time of spelt, with a wild garlic and lamb sauce. It was cooked to perfection (which was presumably why I was only permitted a single bite!) and more than made up for its apparent simplicity in taste terms.

After the tuna I couldn’t possibly manage a dessert, so I went for the cheese, which came with a very fine mirabelle jam. I love mirabelles (I’m currently trying to grow a couple of trees from the stones of some I found a few years back; they’re around a metre tall now) in any form and I love brebis cheese so I was content.

I gather those who did have dessert were more than happy too! The chocoholics in the party went for the dark chocolate brownie with nuts, cream and a supreme of blood oranges.

The exotic fresh fruit with sorbet looked fabulous, and indeed fresh, with sharp pineapple and crunchy pomegranate seeds to give contrast to the sweet sorbets.

It was a good dinner, and we wandered home happily to one more night of noise, saying goodbye to D and O, who would be returning to the UK in the morning (and were not at all jealous, really). Tomorrow we would be on the move again, back in the direction of Bordeaux. There was some serious wine buying to b e done in the second week of our trip.

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_0283IMG_0230IMG_0251L'ARDOISE, PAU, ASSIETTE DE FROMAGE PUR BREBIS ET SA CONFITURE MAISON 011IMG_0273IMG_0120L'ARDOISE, PAU, ASSIETTE DE FROMAGE PUR BREBIS ET SA CONFITURE MAISON 010IMG_0367L'ARDOISE, PAU, TARTARE DE TRUITE SAUMONEE AU GINGEMBRE ET ANETH 004IMG_0219IMG_0371L'ARDOISE, PAU, THON, LEGUMES DU MOMENT ET EMULSION DE COQUILLAGES 006IMG_9996LES CONTREBANDIERS, LOGO 003IMG_0282IMG_0217IMG_0226IMG_0115L'ARDOISE, PAU, AUTOUR DES FRUITS FRAIS EXOTIQUES, ESPUMA ET SORBET 012PAU 034PAU 035IMG_0241L'ARDOISE, PAU, MUSHROOMS 002IMG_0119IMG_0009IMG_0010IMG_0234IMG_0224IMG_0210IMG_0233IMG_0210L'ARDOISE, PAU, CARRE D'AGNEAU D

ES PYRENEES DE CHEZ LAURENT, RISOTTO DE PETIT EPEAUTRE A L'AILLET ET SAUCE AGNEAU 008IMG_0271IMG_0250IMG_0360IMG_0235IMG_0245IMG_0326IMG_0227IMG_0374IMG_0263IMG_0269IMG_0216IMG_0277IMG_0448L'ARDOISE, PAU, THON, LEGUMES DU MOMENT ET EMULSION DE COQUILLAGES 005IMG_0242IMG_0279

IMG_0228L'ARDOISE, PAU 003IMG_0214 Travel/Food 2018 – French Road Trip, Day 9, Pau Sunday, May 13th – Day 9, Pau The day started off reasonably well and it looked as if we might get some decent weather.

Saturday, May 12th – Day 8, Pau

Having basked in the sunshine on Friday, Saturday came as a bit of a shock to our systems. We woke to find low cloud and the Pyrenees had disappeared overnight, as they are occasionally wont to do. We hung about on the Boulevard for a short while but then found ourselves somewhat more restricted as to where we could and couldn’t go because our three day tickets only let us into the specific grandstand on Saturday and Sunday. The first race was scheduled for around 11 am so we caught the funicular down, then flogged back up to the entrance gate (what we should have done is walk down and save ourselves the need to go back up, but I’m not sure anyone’s brains were working properly at that point). I think we tend to just use the funicular because it’s there, after so many years when it would be stopped for the duration of the Grand Prix and we’d finish the day having to lug all our kit back from the press office, up the stairs over the bridge, swearing profusely all the way!

It did enable us to take a look at the Gare end of the track from the boulevard while we waited to get on so that was no bad thing.

Once we’d settled into our grandstand seats, we had a clearer view of Gare, and of the screen opposite, so at least we’d be kept informed – provided we could see through the fug of cigarette smoke from some of our fellow spectators. Actually, once the race started they weren’t too bad, apart from one ma n, and we had a reasonable view. Again, provided you are high enough up, the photography is not too bad.

The race went much as races here tend to, with people running out of talent all over the place…

And Safety Cars…

There was even some racing…

After the race ended we figured we’d head into the park, but it was starting to cloud over even more, and the rain was spotting here and there. By the time we’d reached Pont Oscar the sky was looking really ominous, and the temperature had dropped dramatically, so we decided that as it was lunchtime the only sensible thing to do was get indoors for a while and wait for it to blow over.

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Luckily the Palais Beaumont was at hand, and as we knew, la Belle Epoque brasserie was open for a change.  Apparently all this has become the norm since 2016, and like the renovation of the rue du Hedas is a very welcome development. When we first started to go to Pau in 1989 the whole place had an air of decay about it. Now that semi-benign neglect seems to be being reversed.

We snagged a table, and were joined by E, R and W. A round of aperitifs both alcoholic and non-alcoholic were procured and we settled in to study the menu as the wind whipped up outside and the rain started to hammer down. We watched the stall across the way, which had been happily selling sweets to stick children, being pretty comprehensively taken apart by the sheer force of the gale, as it howled round the park. It was good to be indoors!


After some study we decided that we would just go for a main course each, and a bottle of rose wine to go with it. I chose the linguine with beef, which was tasty if somewhat solid, the pasta having obviously been kept warm after its initial cooking, to the point that it had started to stick together in clumps.

Lynne ordered the magret de canard (no surprises there) which she seemed to enjoy well enough, though she inevitable left the salad leaves where they were.

The others went for the burger, which looked pretty good and was nicely presented, and came with rather good frites.

After we finished, we strung out drinking our wine for as long as we could, because it really didn’t seem to be improving any outside. People were scurrying past, umbrellas ripped inside out, and the noise of the wind was intensifying, so it seemed best not to rush off into it.

Besides, it was nice in the Palais, and we even found that there is an indoor garden.

Around 3pm we decided we’d really best go out so we watched the start of the Twin Cup from the Boulevard, in my case looking at them and thinking: “How many! How many! What could possibly go wrong?”

The grassy slopes of the park, which fill up with spectators who don’t want to pay for a grandstand seat, and who thus got in for €3 a day, were pretty much empty apart from a handful of the truly determined or truly insane.

And then it started to rain again, so we ran for it and bolted into the Brasserie Aragon, which had always been our rendezvous point if we got separated, and drank hot chocolate while waiting for the afternoon’s Formula 3 qualifying session to start. It gave me the chance to wrap the camera in it’s plastic sleeve and myself in a large, shapeless plastic mac, before going back out, equipped to take more photos.

In some ways, I really didn’t mind, because it does make the pictures so much more dramatic!

However, the rain really didn’t seem to want to stop, and in fact got heavier towards the end of the session.

It’s fair to say conditions w ere challenging, both for us and for some of the drivers!

As soon as qualifying ended we headed back to the apartment to dry out. It was good to be able to hang everything up and get into clean, dry clothing. That evening we were headed for le Dauphin on the Place des Etats, one of our favourite places to eat in the old town down near the Chateau de Pau. Normally we prefer to eat outside on their terrace but it was too cold a night to be anywhere but inside. And on going inside, who should we find but Mika Salo, who really does seem to be following us about these days. He was there with Robert Shwartzman, and his manager Peter, who swore he knew us from rallying…

Anyway, on getting settled we went for the house aperitif which is pretty muc h a peach flavoured kir made with Jurançon molleux, and is very pleasant indeed (we got through a second round while we waited for everyone else to arrive).

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Olives and tapenade were also provided, which may have been just as well. Those aperitifs were quite powerful! Decisions were finally reached and food ordered. I ordered the fish soup, because it seemed like a good idea on an evil night. I failed to take a photo of it though. Lynne ordered the foie gras, which was excellent as ever, as well as somewhat architectural.

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The others went for the peppers stuffed with salt cod.

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After that the theme was duck, and more duck, at least for Lynne and for me. I went for the cassoulet, because there’s nothing better than a cassoulet for comfort food. This one was sticky, the meat juices binding the beans together, and the duck was tender, tasty and massive.

LE DAUPHIN, PAU, CASSOULET 006

Lynne went for the confit de canard, which was good too (well you’d expect it to be given that the piece in the cassoulet was just what I’d been hoping for). This is not refined food, it’s solid home-style cooking decorated a bit, and it’s all the better for it.

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The others went for salmon, which turned out to be an enormous fil let of said fish, with rice, an excellent sauce, and a smattering of vegetables…

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Or prawns and scallops, an equally enormous portion…

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You won’t be surprised to learn that none of us could manage a dessert! We had a chat with Mika, Robert and Peter (who invited us to come and see him at Pre ma the following day) and then headed out into the night.

Despite the weather there was again a great deal of noise going on at the Place Gourmande, so we sat up until they stopped, then shuttered everything fully to stop the sound of the remaining revelers who were able to keep up their shouting and singing till around 3 in the morning!

IMG_9681LE DAUPHIN, PAU, STUFFED PEPPERS 003LE DAUPHIN, PAU, APERITIFS 001IMG_9531LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT 011IMG_9631LE DAUPHIN, PAU, CASSOULET 006LE DAUPHIN, PAU, SCALLOPS AND PRAWNS 005LE DAUPHIN, PAU, SALMON 007IMG_9701LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT, APERITIFS 002IMG_9620IMG_9766LE DAUPHIN, PAU, OLIVES AND TAPENADE 002LE DAUPHIN, PAU, CONFIT DE CANARD 008LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT, APERITIFS 004IMG_9593IMG_9542LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT, BURGER 005LE DAUPHIN, PAU, DESSERT 015LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT, PASTA 008LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT 009LE DAUPHIN, PAU, FOIE GRAS 004IMG_9576IMG_9883IMG_9854IMG_9657LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT 012LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT, APERITIFS 001IMG_9905LE DAUPHIN, PAU, APERITIFS 001IMG_9702IMG_9826LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT 010LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT, MAGRET DE CANARD 007IMG_9963IMG_9518LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT 003LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT, BURGER 006IMG_9631LE DAUPHIN, PAU, FOIE GRAS 004IMG_9701IMG_9576IMG_9593IMG_9518IMG_9702IMG_99

05LE DAUPHIN, PAU, SCALLOPS AND PRAWNS 005LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT 011IMG_9883LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT 003LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT, APERITIFS 004IMG_9620IMG_9657IMG_9854IMG_9531IMG_9766IMG_9681LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT 010IMG_9542LE DAUPHIN, PAU, APERITIFS 001IMG_9826LE DAUPHIN, PAU, SALMON 007LE BRASS

ERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT, BURGER 005LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT, APERITIFS 001LE DAUPHIN, PAU, CASSOULET 006LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT 009LE DAUPHIN, PAU, STUFFED PEPPERS 003LE DAUPHIN, PAU, CONFIT DE CANARD 008LE DAUPHIN, PAU, OLIVES AND TAPENADE 002LE BRASSERIE, PA

LAIS BEAUMONT 012LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT, PASTA 008IMG_9963LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT, BURGER 006LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT, MAGRET DE CANARD 007LE BRASSERIE, PALAIS BEAUMONT, APERITIFS 002 Travel/Food 2018 – French Road Trip, Day 8, Pau Saturday, May 12th – Day 8, Pau Having basked in the sunshine on Friday, Saturday came as a bit of a shock to our systems.

Food 2008 - Recipe (Tartiflette)

Food 2008 – Recipe (Tartiflette)

March 2008 – Recipes (Tartiflette) Ingredients
  • 1.2 kg potatoes
  • 200 g diced bacon
  • 1 onion
  • 1 reblochon cheese
  • 2 tablespoons crème fraiche
  • 1 bottle Apremont (Savoy white wine – if you can’t find this get an Alsace or German dry white wine)
Serves
  • 4
Method
  1. Prepare all the ingredients.
  2. Peel and boil the potatoes. Drain and leave them to cool (do not refresh).
  3. Finely chop the onion and sweat in a…

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Friday, May 10th – Day 7, Pau

And so finally we were ready for the start of what may very well be the last Grand Prix in Pau, at least in its current format. I’m sure the organisers will find something to replace the Formula Three category, but it really won’t be the same. And for that I don’t think I’ll ever forgive the FIA. For now though, we would be treated one more time to the sight of those who may be the future stars of Formula One thrashing round the narrow twisting streets of the lovely town. It’s sad to think that this may not happen again, and I was in a somewhat melancholy mood for quite a lot of the weekend as a result. It’s particularly vexing given that I think Pau, which is very much the thinking persons Monte Carlo, is one of the sternest challenges these youngsters can face, and it’s good for them to race there for all sorts of reasons! For anyone who is interested, I wrote about some of those reasons th ree years ago here.

Anyway, putting that behind us, we set out for the day with a stop on the fabulous Boulevard des Pyrenees, the eponymous mountains looking incredibly crisp on a fine, sunny Friday morning. I’m sure I’ve never seen them quite so sharply defined before. We have known people come to Pau and never see them at all, so we were delighted with the views.

After a short while looking down at the cars on the road below (the avenue Leon Say), which runs almost parallel to the promontory of the Boulevard, we moved into the Parc Beaumont, slightly reluctantly on my part as I do rather enjoy taking pictures from up there.

It’s not the sort of view you can often get, and apart from one unfortunate year when someone took the decision to barricade the area off, it’s a great place to watch from – and as it’s outside the circuit it’s also free. The Tour de France related names on the road also add to the fun.

From there we made our way, as we have always been wont to do, to Pont Oscar which is one of the other places around the track that still lends itself to photography when you no longer have a press pass.

There’s an element of scrambling involved, and it’s quite stressful on the ankles, but it’s worth it because you can get shots like this if you don’t mind hanging onto the fence and trying to balance on whatever you can find to stabilise yourself.

It’s actually now one of the two best places to take photos, but it doesn’t tell the whole story, and you need to move round to see who is performing well and who isn’t, who has the courage to attack the place and who doesn’t. We walked past the Palais Beaumont, where the casino is sited and where there is a very pleasant brasserie (and perhaps more importantly indoor toilets, rather than the p ortaloos that dot the park for this event and that are fine early on in the weekend but that can get very unpleasant as they start to bake in the sun). Here photography is rather more difficult, especially now there are two layers of fencing between you and the track, though it can be done with the right kit.

From here we headed towards Foch and the monument, which these days is where if it’s going to go wrong, it goes badly wrong. It used to be Pont Oscar that bit first, but then the road there was resurfaced and most of the bumps that could so unsettle a racing car were smoothed out. There are still the odd snares for the unwary, but these days it’s the kerbs round the monument that bite.

Sadly there is so much fencing that getting a decent photo as a member of the public is close to impossible. I understand why the fencing is there, but as with so many circuits I wish there was an alternative. The only places I’ve found of late where it’s possible to take good photos pretty much anywhere are Goodwood and Ahvenisto.

Anyway, after the red flag that finished the first session of the morning, we stopped for coffee in the park at one of the many stands that spring up for the event. It’s probably the only race circuit I know where you can get a coffee for €1 so it’s unique in that respect. Actually for an extra €1 you could get a returnable “eco-cup” which made a nice souvenir if you “forgot” to return it (we have a set of 4 now). For the second session we walked round the back of the stands and further into the park where again there is an area that enables you to get some very good shots.

Well, you can if someone who is not a marshal, and who therefore probably shouldn’t be trackside on a live track, isn’t standing on the inside merrily texting her friends for a large part of the session…

Luckily she’d gone by the time this happened:

From there we scrambled down the mini-amphiteathre in the parc and headed towards a corner that may or may not be called Buisson, where again with a bit of manouevring and some decent quality kit on which you can turn the autofocus off, you stand a chance of some reasonable shots coming your way.

There’s a nasty little chicane that tends to focus their minds there.

Towards the end of the session we headed back to the Foch grandstand because it had a handily placed screen where we could see the times at the end, and I caught up with a couple of old friends who were busy watching their drivers intently.

The photography is still rubbish though, even if you can see the whites of their eyes!

Once they’d finished, we decided that we would head for lunch at the Hotel Parc Beaumont, a habit we seem to have got into over the years. Their terrace sort of overlooks the track, or at least it would if they’d just trim the hedge back, and it’s lovely out there on a sunny day with a bunch of tin-tops whizzing past.  One of the local ducks seemed to think so too, as it waddled up the terrace and started pecking at the restaurant door. Given that Pau is the land of duck cookery par excellence, this seemed somewhat risky to us!

We settled down in the sun, and the waiter, Fabrice, brought us the menus, the wine list, and a small amuse bouches of rilletes with some lovely toasted baguette slices.

We had a think, and decided that the dish of the day would be good. This turned out to be a very nicely cooked and present piece of stone bass, so no surprises there; both R and I were perfectly content with it, and especially with lovely frothy sauce that soaked into the mashed potatoes so well.

Lynne went for the crab meat salad and green asparagus, which was also pretty impressive, though it has shrunk slightly from the portions of former years.

I was much amused to note that the wine glasses were made in Lausitz, which is another stalwart of the racing world. Stolzle seem to have been around quite a lot longer than motor racing though.

We had considered not having dessert but the offer of a “fraisette” proved irresistible. It looked pretty irresistible too!

After that we had a coffee and then roamed around the park a bit more, heading back towards Buisson again, but stopping off before the amphiteathre again, where the Twin Cup proved more than a little entertaining.

They’re really not suited for a circuit like this, but you try telling the lunatics behind the wheels.

After that we headed towards the paddock to see who we could find, and encountered a variety of people we know, and quite a few we’d almost forgotten, or at least hadn’t seen for a couple of decades. It was a pleasure to see Juan Pablo Montoya again, as I think the last time we’d seen him, he’d been winning at this very same track.

We also found Ferdinand Zvonimir Maria Balthus Keith Michael Otto Antal Bahnam Leonhard von Habsburg, Archduke of Austria, Royal Prince of Hungary, Bohemi a and Croatia or as he’s more commonly known – no, not Keith! – just Ferdinand Habsburg. He’s a lot of fun as well as being a much improved driver over the last couple of years.

Once they were all ready to go out for qualifying we headed for the inside of Gare, where the photography was even worse.

And unlike in previous years, we were ready early for dinner so we headed to a bar we know, Au Grain du Raisin, where we offed a couple of glasses of Jurançon molleux, before heading off to dinner do wn on Rue du Hedas.

This road used to be a grubby, unremarkable part of town, but work by the local government has revitalised the area, and now there are two large playgrounds, a wide car-free road, several restaurants, areas of greenery, and light displays at night. It’s really lovely. As is the restaurant, la Table d’Hote.

Outside it looks as if it’s set in the town wall, but inside is modern, light, airy, with a playful sense of fun in the decor, and serious intent in the cooking.

They were also very patient with the seven of us, and more than able to meet E’s requirement for something interesting but non-alcoholic to drink with her dinner. They scored well on both counts. After we’d all figured out what we wanted, they brought some tiny amuse bouches, with smoked salmon and a creamy cheesy base.

There was some superb bread too, but we all tried to lay off it as much as possible. I started with a lovely (but badly photographed) fricasee of green asparagus, with poached egg and bellota – or if you prefer pata negra – ham from just across the border in Spain. The egg ran into it and brought everything together. These were classic flavours done perfectly.

Lynne’s starter was ricotta and lemon ravioli with a citrus sauce and she said it was refreshing and creamy but wouldn’t let me have any!

The other starters were popular too, and included a tartare of gilthead bream, with crushed avocado, and a piquillo pepper sauce:


There wass also pan-fried escalope of duck foie gras, with apricots marinated in Jurançon:


And a confit of duck foie gras with red wine and spices:

For mains I opted for the crunchy prawns, with creamy risotto and piquillo peppers, because as anyone who knows me will know, I am still on an obsessive hunt for the world’s best risotto. This one got pretty close.


I did share this with Lynne, because I also wanted to try the excellent crispy fried veal sweetbreads, with green asparagus. I love sweetbreads but you see them so rarely in the UK. These were very good indeed.

R went for the pork, a pan-fried pluma (loin end) of French pork, with a reduced rosemary jus and pronounced it tasty. It too was accompanied by piquillos, a common ingredient in these parts.

I couldn’t manage a dessert. Instead I opted to share a portion of Oss au-Iraty cheese, which was very simply served with a portion of black cherry jam. I would get through a lot of this cheese, one of my favourites, during the next few days.

R had a Paris-Brest with single cream and chocolate sauce which looked good, but there was no way…

LE TABLE D'HOTE 014

After that we paid the bill, enjoyed the lights, and wandered back to our apartment where we struggled to sleep because of the racket from the Place Gourmand food festival that had been set up in t he Place Georges Clemenceau. It was only by shutting the shutters completely that we were able to get a modicum of silence.

IMG_9499LE TABLE D'HOTE 003PAU 012PAU 016IMG_9448PAU 032PAU 021PAU 014IMG_9495IMG_9455PAU 022AU GRAIN DE RAISIN, PAU, BEER 002AU GRAIN DE RAISIN, PAU, BEER 005AU GRAIN DE RAISIN, PAU 003LE TABLE D'HOTE 004IMG_9364PAU 010PAU 020HOTEL PARC BEAUMONT, PAU, CRAB AND ASPARAGUS 005IMG_9459IMG_9472IMG_94

93PAU 030HOTEL PARC BEAUMONT, PAU, RILLETTES 003HOTEL PARC BEAUMONT, PAU, GLASSES 006IMG_9518IMG_9469IMG_9319PAU 018PAU 026IMG_9439IMG_8966IMG_9481PAU 009PAU 023IMG_9358IMG_9218IMG_9513IMG_9411IMG_9475IMG_9428IMG_9275AU GRAIN DE RAISIN, PAU, BEER 004IMG_9467LE TABLE D'HOTE 011IMG_9496HOTEL PARC BEAUMONT, PAU, STONE BASS 004IMG_9408IMG_9474LE TABLE D'HOTE 002HOTEL PARC BEAUMONT, PAU, FRAISES 007IMG_9284IMG_9304PAU 019